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Accountability (muhasabah) is not the first word that springs to mind when discussing the Muslim world. Dictatorship, rigged elections, tyranny and torture pretty much sum up most Muslim countries today. The level of cruelty inflicted upon the people easily rivals if not surpasses some of the worst oppression in history. Unfortunately for those living there accountability and the rule of law seem a distant dream.
Torture is routine in Muslim countries. Uzbekistan in Central Asia has literally boiled alive members of its Islamic political opposition. In Egypt, a man was filmed being tortured and sexually assaulted by police officers. The video even made its way on to the internet. But instead of the police officers being prosecuted the victim Imad Kabir was jailed for three months for ‘resisting authority.’
Elections are farcical. The President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov gained 91.9% of the vote in the 2000 elections. The sole opposition candidate Abdulhasiz Jalalov admitted he only entered the race to make it seem democratic and that he voted for Karimov.
Most Muslim countries are dictatorships and police states. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf recently sacked the Chief Justice for opposing some of his policies. When judges and lawyers held protests against the sacking they were attacked and beaten by police.
It’s no wonder Muslims everywhere are crying out for an alternative to this dire situation. But what is the alternative?
America has made it clear it wants a ‘new Middle East’. A Middle East according to Condoleezza Rice ‘that strengthens the forces of peace and the forces of democracy in this region’. The invasion of Iraq was meant to herald the start of this new era. Washington promised to make Iraq so attractive a democratic model that it would set an example to the entire Middle East. The plan spectacularly failed. ‘Democratic Iraq’ is a model no-one wants to follow.
The failure to present democracy as an alternative to the dictatorships in the Muslim world has accelerated the drive towards Islam and the Khilafah. The majority of Muslims also want a ‘new Middle East’ but one where they live by Shari’ah not secular law.
Sensing this growing tide for Islam, America turned its attention to the Islamic Khilafah ruling system presenting it as totalitarian, fascist state that could never bring accountability and good governance to the Muslim world. George Bush said:
This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely
Lord Acton’s words may have been made in the nineteenth century but they ring true with many people today. Europe’s experience living under tyrannical Kings in the Middle Ages led renaissance thinkers to establish models of government that would severely limit the powers of the ruler and hence the power to become corrupt.
Charles de Secondat baron de Montesquieu, an eighteenth century French political thinker, established the theory of separating powers of government between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Other methods of limiting the power of government laid down were: specifying a time limit for the ruler as opposed to the medieval life-long monarchs, general elections giving people a choice over who rules them and sharing executive power among a cabinet of ministers.
These measures have no doubt prevented tyrant rulers such as those found in the Muslim world emerging in the west. But does this mean as some writers have insinuated that democracy is the only system with effective accountability? Abdulwahab El-Affendi in his book ‘Who needs an Islamic State?’ states:
By positing an in-built tendency in governments towards tyranny, it was possible to devise governments which would not allow rulers enough freedom to turn into tyrants, a quite successful arrangement. Thus, although former US president Richard Nixon may have had the potential to be as tyrannical as Joseph Stalin, he was prevented from achieving this by a system which restricted his despotic tendencies.
A major flaw, therefore, in the traditional Muslim perception of the Righteous Caliphate was the erroneous belief that the rules of government must be designed to fit rulers who were almost saints – saints do not need the rules anyway.
This accusation that a Khilafah can only work if the Khaleefah is a saint is completely unfounded as will be discussed later. Such accusations have been repeated by many western academics, politicians and commentators who have completely misunderstood the Khilafah ruling system and failed to appreciate its mechanisms of accountability.
Accountability in the Khilafah is guaranteed firstly through the institutions of government, secondly in the obligation to establish political parties and thirdly through an individual obligation on all the citizens.
These three areas will now be discussed in turn.